My take on client phone calls is that they are an inconvenient waste of time for both you and your client. Am I alone on this one? I couple inconvenient with waste of time because we do many things throughout the day that might not be a good use of our time, but they aren't necessarily inconvenient. Of course, phone calls still have their place in this world, they are excellent for collaborating on projects. But, the keyword there is collaboration. My argument is against non-collaborative phone calls, which I call "short phone calls". You know, the ones where the client calls you up and says, "I need you to add a copyright symbol to our footer."
In general, "short phone calls":
- Are inconvenient because they are unscheduled and interrupt whatever you were doing when the call came in. It's particularly inconvenient for programmers, as we tend to get involved in a "chain of thought", which is easily broken by the sound of a ringing phone.
- A waste of time because there is generally too much "fluff". Talk about the weather, dead air while the client is thinking, "can you hear me okay?", "is now a good time to talk?", etc.
- Encourage inaccurate billing practices. If you are a freelancer, working on a job for a client, what happens when another client calls you? How do you properly track time for one client when you are constantly being interrupted by other clients.
I'm currently a full-time freelancer, yet in a typical work week, I field an average of one phone call, while maintaining good customer service and very satisfied clients. It wasn't always like this though, it took a few years to get to this point. Here are some of my trials and errors:
- Ignoring phone calls all-together. I did this for a while, it's a bad idea. It really frustrates your clients. There is a time and place for this approach though, as I'll describe below.
- Go to voicemail. I still use this tactic. With some clients, no matter how hard to try to force the use of email, it just doesn't take completely. By waiting an hour or so to return a call, and religiously answering emails as soon as you get them, you can steer the most stubborn client a little bit in the direction of email.
- Explain your position. I have only done this once or twice, but it has worked wonders. I've explained to my client how phone calls are difficult variable to control for freelance developers, and whenever possible, email is preferred. Supplement this explanation with an understanding that scheduled phone calls are okay.
Keep in mind that whichever tactic you choose, it's important to respond to emails very quickly, even if just to say, "Bob, sounds great, I'll have a look at this for you this afternoon…".
So, not only is this post a case against phone calls, but a strong case for email. I have one client with whom I very rarely speak with. We've been working together for over 5 years now, and I'm by far more productive with them than any other client. I always have a record of what needs to be done (in the email) and can easily let the date of the email serve as a priority list.